Winston was benched last week after throwing four interceptions against the Cincinnati Bengals, and Ryan Fitzpatrick was inserted back in the starting lineup for Sunday’s game against the Carolina Panthers.
Tampa Bay is one game behind in the NFC’s wild-card chase, and it will do what it believes is best at the quarterback position, without being concerned about any potential injury for Winston that would guarantee the $20.9 million on his contract for next season, sources said.
Buccaneers officials continued to insist last week that they are far more concerned about making the playoffs than Winston’s fifth-year option. In four games and three starts this year, Winston has thrown 10 interceptions. The Bucs (3-4) are 1-2 in games he has started in 2018.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been benched. … It’s humbling,” said Winston, a Heisman Trophy winner in 2013 and the first overall draft pick in 2015. “It’s something I can learn from and grow from, and it just adds to the story. Every year my job is to get better and better, and right now, I’m not getting the job done. I have been replaced and I’m moving forward.”
Neither Winston nor Buccaneers coach Dirk Koetter can pinpoint what exactly has caused Winston to struggle.
“If I knew exactly why, then I’d do everything I could to try to fix it. We wouldn’t be where we’re at right now,” Koetter said this past week. “It’s just becoming a little bit too much of a trend and when it becomes that much of a trend … that’s the main thing that’s holding us back right now.”
Winston served a three-game suspension to start the season for a violation of the NFL’s personal conduct policy, stemming from an alleged groping incident involving a female Uber driver in Arizona in 2016.
The Bucs went 2-1 in those games with Fitzpatrick at the helm, as he led the NFL with 1,230 passing yards and became the first quarterback in NFL history to throw for 400 yards in three consecutive weeks. Fitzpatrick struggled in a 48-10 loss to the Bears in Week 4, and after Tampa Bay’s bye the following week, the team decided to install Winston as the starter in Week 6 against the Falcons.
ESPN’s Jenna Laine contributed to this report.